Video Goes to School, Part 3

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of a three-part series on the use of video in education. Part One of the series, which appeared in April, examined the impact video is having on schools. Part Two, which appeared in May, focused on the use of streaming video and other applications to enhance. Following this month’s report, we announce the winners of our first-ever Student Video Discovery Awards.

By Cara Branigan

No word says it better; today’s technology is, quite simply, “cool.” What it lets average students and teachers do with pictures, video, music, and even the simplest things is truly amazing.

For instance, a second-grade student named Josiah in Georgetown, Ky., recently wrote a story about how he accompanied his grandfather to buy buffalo meat so his grandmother could make her famous hamburgers.

His tale comes to life with the help of technology. As the video story plays– viewers can watch his creation on the Scott County Schools web site–a series of photographs he has taken and drawings he has made pan and zoom across the screen.

Not only is it engaging to see the visuals, but it is also quite meaningful–and moving–to hear this young student’s narration: “One summer, my family and I were visiting my grandparents in Wyoming. My family and I were anxiously awaiting lunch. In my family, my grandmother’s cooking is a special occasion. Her hamburgers are a unique kind of beef. Little did we know that this unique kind of beef would lead us on an adventure. … I became Cowboy Josiah on a mission to find buffalo beef.”

The effort, planning, and attention to detail Josiah put into writing the script, storyboarding the images and sound, and narrating his tale quickly become obvious as the story unfolds.

For this reason, more and more teachers nationwide are using video as an instructional tool to excite and engage students. From their experience, video assignments motivate students to go beyond what is expected of them.

Plus, the cost of digital video cameras and editing software keeps dropping, while the technology’s capability and ease of use increases. That means equipping an entire classroom with tools for ripping music, capturing digital images or video, and editing these into a powerful presentation is now affordable for nearly every school. And the technology’s simplicity means students can focus more on the content and less on how to operate these tools.

“I think if [students] had to worry about the technology, they would never be doing the work they are doing now,” said Danielle Mannion, grade 9-12 television production teacher at Millis Public Schools in Massachusetts. “Before, it was a constant struggle with equipment. Editing was tedious. Now, all 80 of my students can edit.”

Robust software programs mean editing hardware is no longer a must, and digital file sizes–even of high-definition (HD) quality–are small enough to fit on laptop computers. The television studio at Millis Public Schools is relatively small, with three digital cameras and two laptops loaded with software such as Adobe After Effects, Apple Computer’s Final Cut Pro, and iMovie, a free editing tool that is preloaded on every Apple computer.

“You can spend less time thinking about the technology and more time thinking about the product,” Mannion said. “My students take a laptop home for the weekend and edit.”

Teachers now incorporate video production into their classes across the curriculum. In some cases, students are creating video presentations to show the knowledge they have acquired; in others, the project itself serves as the learning experience.

As Josiah’s project aptly demonstrates, writing plays an integral role in the creation of student videos. Besides honing students’ writing skills, however, video projects also teach such higher-order thinking skills as spatial and sequential thinking, as well as allowing students to exercise their creativity.

Every school activity is an opportunity for moviemaking: career days, field trips, guest speakers, yearbooks, and even public service announcement contests. “It’s kind of a PR tool, too. We can showcase what students are doing in the school to the public,” Mannion said.

Because more and more high schools, and even middle schools, are teaching with professional video editing software, students entering postsecondary institutions are already literate in video editing.

While John M. Woody, a professor at the School of Media Arts and Design at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., says some students have to undo some of the practices they’ve taught themselves, “it’s also amazing how much further I can take them in my digital video editing course.”

“We’re actually moving our students further into the processes and techniques, and they are coming out better,” Woody added. “We’re going to see the benefits of this digital revolution at the professional level.”

James Madison’s School of Media Arts and Design is an all-Macintosh school that teaches video editing with Final Cut Pro Studio to students who aim to get jobs at post-production houses editing video for Hollywood movies, commercials, documentaries, training videos, television shows, and more.

Students learn the art of shooting, lighting, and planning their shots, then they take the video from these assignments and learn how to edit. Continuity is important. So are head room and lead room–leaving enough room at the top of the head and in front of where a person is walking, respectively.

Outfitting a college-level production studio can be costly with all the computers, software, cameras, and lights that are needed. The new education pricing programs implemented by many vendors–eager to train and capture the next generation of professional users–have made a huge difference.

“It takes so many units to teach, and when the cost factor goes down, it’s wonderful,” Woody said. All the large players in professional-level video editing software offer substantial discounts to schools, including Apple, Avid Technology, Pinnacle Systems, and Macromedia Inc.

“When we saw Final Cut Pro, it was the answer to a lot of our problems,” Woody said. “This whole Final Cut Pro Studio is so integrated, it makes life easy.”

Final Cut Pro Studio, a new suite of software from Apple, bundles several applications into a single package, including Apple’s HD digital video editor, Final Cut Pro 5; the audio editing tool Soundtrack Pro; graphics animator Motion 2; and DVD authoring software DVD Studio Pro 4. It retails for $1,299 but is priced for schools at just $399.

Lights, camera, action!

Studios and sound stages might be what come to mind when envisioning the growing trend of students and teachers making their own movies for instructional purposes. But not all of today’s classrooms are filling up with director’s chairs, hot lights, boom microphones, and huge casts and crews.

In fact, video cameras are not even required to make some of the most effective and captivating videos.

Bernard R. Robin, associate professor of instructional technology at the University of Houston College of Education, uses the most basic tools for digital storytelling.

“Most of the digital stories I have my students create are done with still images, but the end product is a [short] movie,” Robin said.

Like a Ken Burns documentary, still images can be turned into video by panning from side to side and zooming in and out. Microsoft Photo Story 3, a free software program that can be downloaded from the Microsoft web site, does this automatically. You simply drop in your photos, add music and text, and then you can tweak the transitions.

“At the same time that computers and digital cameras have become affordable, software has also become more affordable and accessible,” Robin said. “This is not brand-new or groundbreaking. It’s just the timing is [such] that this is ready for widespread notoriety.”

With a microphone, which can cost as little as $5 at Radio Shack, students and teachers can easily add their own voice recordings to projects.

The writing and planning that goes into a digital essay is what makes it successful–or not. Add images, voices, and music to set the tone, and you can really send a powerful message.

Robin said video should only be used when it really enhances the content. “A video of someone talking isn’t as interesting and effective as using three still images from different angles over the top of their voice,” he explained.

Besides personal narratives, digital stories can explore current or historical events. One digital story created at the University of Houston is about Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In the video, a recording of Lincoln’s speech plays with patriotic music in the background. On the screen, the visuals include portraits of Lincoln, battle scenes, dead bodies left to rot, historical documents, and the American flag.

Similarly, students have combined imagery and the recordings of John Lienhard, a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and history at the University of Houston. Lienhard hosts a radio program on National Public Radio, called The Engines of Our Ingenuity, about how our culture is formed by human creativity.

One episode, entitled “Tallest, Longest,” examines the emergence of skyscrapers and bridges throughout the past two centuries. The students added appropriate images of buildings from around the world to illustrate Lienhard’s recording.

Robin recommends that teachers create digital stories as an “anticipatory set” to engage and entice students at the beginning of a new lesson. For example, one teacher at the University of Houston College of Education made a digital movie that shows pictures of how arcs are found in both natural and man-made structures to introduce a lesson on how math is used in architecture.

“It’s the media-enhanced version that comes to life, because you see and hear it as well as read it,” Robin said. “I’m not saying lectures are bad, but this is another good way to motivate and engage students.”

Digital storytelling also makes students practice their skills at researching, writing for an audience, problem solving, working with others, higher-order thinking, and authentic learning. “The notion of writing for an audience is very powerful for teenagers,” Robin said. “If they know their peers are going to see it, then they will want to do a good job.”

Students in fourth, eighth, and 12th grades at Scott County Schools in Georgetown, Ky., use digital storytelling as a way to fulfill the state’s writing portfolio requirement.

Getting students to write was becoming tedious, said Jeanne Biddle, the district’s resource technology teacher. “It was just a negative aspect, and writing can be fun and creative,” she said.

But the prospect of turning those writing assignments into movies became quite motivating for students.

While some teachers in the district have access to Adobe Premier, most teachers and students use the free tools that come preloaded with the Apple and Windows operating systems: iMovie and Windows Movie Maker 2.

Having these free tools become standard components of a computer’s operating system has allowed teachers and students to tell their digital stories despite the district’s dwindling technology budget.

“This allowed us to use the resources we had and still complete the project,” Biddle said. “It didn’t matter what the platform was. It was about getting [students] to do what we needed them to do.”

Students had to create succinct writing pieces that would be graded holistically. Each narrative piece needed to hook the audience and have a beginning, middle, and end. Once students had completed an acceptable script, they would storyboard it and plan the images they wanted the audience to see during the voiceovers.

“The technology is the motivating factor,” Biddle said. “It can be used in science … or in history, where the student takes on the persona of a historical person. No content area is untouched by digital storytelling.”

Scott County students have made a series of public service announcements to convince legislators to increase funding for educational technology. Nine of the announcements will be aired June 28 during the Student Film Festival at the National Educational Computing Conference in Philadelphia.

Screen-recording software

Another way to make videos without a video camera is with screen-recording software.

Tim Fahlberg, a former high school math teacher and founder of, has made an instructional movie that trains teachers how to create digital videos using a screen-recording program called Camtasia Studio, from TechSmith Corp.

The software is especially ideal for making videos about how to use a piece of software, Fahlberg said, because it records anything happening on the computer screen–from the mouse movements to windows opening. At the same time the action on the screen is recorded, Camtasia Studio records the presenter’s narration, which is spoken into a headset or microphone plugged into the computer.

Combining an interactive whiteboard, a tablet PC, or a graphics tablet (a mouse that consists of a pen and tablet) with the software allows teachers to make movies of their lectures.

“It’s the most efficient tool I’ve ever found for recording whiteboard presentations,” Fahlberg said. Teachers easily can make 10 movies in an hour, he added.

A math teacher, for example, can write out an equation by hand and record the step-by-step process of solving the equation along with his or her oral explanation. Teachers also can have students make their own movies to demonstrate their step-by-step knowledge of problem solving, Fahlberg said.

If these videos are archived on the school’s web site, then a student studying at home could access and review them. Or, he said, teachers can burn the videos to a DVD and distribute the disc for students to play at home.

When kids use this technique, they can create a living archive of their work. Fahlberg, for instance, made a movie of his three-year-old daughter practicing counting on his tablet PC simply by recording what she wrote and said.

Students tend to want to improve upon their first videos, Fahlberg said. They become more dedicated and produce more in-depth work.

“When a student makes [his or her] first movie, it’s not very good. But the progression and improvement is so quick,” Fahlberg said. “I saw improvements in test scores and in attitudes toward learning.”

To make a screen or whiteboard movie costs less than $200. You just need the software, a computer, and a microphone, he said.

“If it’s for math or something where you want to write on the screen, then a graphics tablet is necessary,” Fahlberg said. But teachers without tablet PCs or graphics tablets might still get the same effect using any annotation software, such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Paint.

Scott Trudeau, an instructional technology consultant for the Education Service Center Region 2 in Corpus Christi, Texas, said he used Macromedia Captive to make videos that showed students how to use Macromedia Dreamweaver and other multimedia software. Macromedia Captive records the screen movements and presenter’s narrative to create software tutorials.

Creating these software tutorials is especially helpful for when teachers are out of school. “Typically, a substitute won’t know how to use Dreamweaver–but if [teachers] leave these videos, the kids can just watch them and know what to do,” Trudeau said.

Showcasing student-made movies

Another motivating factor of student video production is the prospect of actually having an audience to watch it.

Scott County Schools showcases students’ digital stories at an event called Digital Story Celebration. Parents and students are invited to the local movie theater to watch videos on the big screen made by kids in kindergarten through grade 12.

“It’s very affirming,” Biddle said.

In fact, the Open Student Television Network (OSTN) is a project that was started because so many media and journalism colleges, and even K-12 schools, have great student-made shows–but no one is getting to see them.

“Our idea was to provide a nationwide distribution mechanism for student-produced TV networks, so students can see what their peers are doing,” said Rich Griffin, OSTN’s vice president of technology.

Seventy colleges and universities have signed up to provide content–everything from sitcoms to sports, from news to documentaries–for the channel, which is broadcast over Internet2. This format allows for full-resolution pictures and stereo-quality sound.

“We thought it would be a disservice to students to do it as a low-grade, commodity-internet quality,” Griffin said. Some of the more popular programs include a cooking show and campus-style politics shows.

“Just like a real TV station, we’ve got promos and bumpers and graphics,” Griffin said. “We’re building an identity for the channel.”

Professional development

Besides teaching content and technology skills to students, video is also an effective professional development tool.

Randy Yerrick, a research associate and professor of teacher education at San Diego State University, says video is the best way for pre-service teachers to document and analyze their teaching practices. Seeing oneself in motion on camera, he explains, is far more effective and accurate than simply reflecting on how you perceive yourself as a teacher.

“I haven’t gotten anyone to really look at themselves through text,” Yerrick said. If you can relate to the feeling people get when they see their newly-developed photographs for the first time, you can understand the impact video has on improving teaching. When looking at those photos for the first time, many people think, “Oh, I didn’t know I looked like that.” Filming oneself and then watching the video has roughly the same impact, Yerrick said.

Through video analysis, Yerrick prepares new science teachers for the classroom by removing any idealistic impressions they might have about the profession. To be effective teachers, he said, teachers have to understand there’s more to it than just presenting content and “loving kids.”

First, using iMovie, pre-service teachers make a two-minute introductory video of themselves. They explain what they think good science teaching is and why they want to become a science teacher.

Next, they interview children on camera about science for about 90 minutes. The questions range from “why do we have seeds?” to “where do dinosaurs come from?” The students then distill that footage into a five-minute presentation about what kids believe about the world.

Then, students watch and analyze a series of videos that demonstrate good science teaching from a number of sources, including the Apple Learning Interchange. Finally, they videotape themselves teaching for an hour, then distill this footage into a five-minute video that critiques how they did.

“The tool of digital video … is very powerful in getting teachers to see what they believe and then getting those beliefs to change,” Yerrick said.

Related stories:

Video Goes to School — Part I

Video Goes to School — Part II

Video resources

Video editing and production software

Technological, societal factors drive video trend

Digital video content and delivery systems

eSN Video Resource Center

See these related links:

Gettysburg Address digital story
(University of Houston)

“Tallest, Longest” digital story
(University of Houston)

Apple Learning Interchange

Digital Story Telling at the Scott County Schools

Open Student Television Network

iMovie in Teacher Education

Randy Yerrick’s Learning from Children’s Voices & Improving Science Education

A former associate editor of eSchool News, Cara Branigan is now a free-lance writer living in Ontario, Canada.

eSchool News Staff

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